April 8, 2012

Quick review: ALOIS NEBEL (World Cinema Showcase)

The starkly black & white animated film Alois Nebel covers the transition of Czechoslovakia from Communism to Democracy, aka the Velvet Revolution. And it does so through the experiences of a station master at a remote train station, the fellow station employee involved in less than legal dealings and a mute man out for revenge.

And dammit. It's actually kinda boring. Alois Nebel is the title character, the station master who finds himself committed to an asylum and then cut adrift. He's a passive, nigh useless character who is difficult to follow. You can't sympathise with Alois; not because he makes poor or evil-minded decisions, but because he makes no decisions at all. He floats from station to asylum to Prague main station and then back to a smaller station in the mountains; all through absolutely no decision of Alois.

Perhaps the fault is mine. Perhaps these characters carry a deeper allegorical meaning that would be easier to understand with more knowledge of Czech history. But seeing as how I don't have more than a passing knowledge of the Velvet Revolution and the events surrounding it, I cannot approach the film in this manner.

The animation is, as I expected, gorgeous and often beautiful to look at. There is that starkness, the high contrast that soaks the film. The film is rotoscoped, allowing a fluidity and real human motion to infuse the characters but giving enough of a distance, as opposed to the more high-tech performance capture.

Ultimately, it is a film of dense atmosphere and history with only a smattering of character and story. How much you get into to it or out of it will depend entirely on how willing you are to have yourself enveloped by that rather than a compelling character. 

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